The City of Bloomington will sign a letter urging state legislators to pass strong hate crime legislation at the state level.
Indiana is one of five states that does not yet have specific laws against hate or bias crimes.
The letter supports legislation that will criminalize actions motivated by bias against “race, religion, color, sex, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, housing status or status as a veteran.”
The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, the Bloomington City Council and the Monroe County Commissioners will also jointly sign the letter. The city council will vote on its signature Wednesday night. Other municipalities and groups can also join.
Bloomington has publicly reported hate-related incidents for nearly 30 years since the Bloomington Human Rights Commission began collecting data in 1990.
“It is a reminder that in a very progressive community like Bloomington these things can happen,” Mayor John Hamilton said at a town hall discussion Wednesday.
The town hall meeting included representatives from various organizations and groups.
Barbara McKinney, attorney and director of the Bloomington Human Rights Commission, said before the commission published reports, she would receive many calls from people who had been called names walking down the street. McKinney said she thought it was important for the public to know about these incidents.
“I think people who are not a member of a minority group don’t think these things happen in Bloomington and they do,” McKinney said.
The human rights commission does not investigate hate incidents but does refer victims to resources and produces the annual report that includes descriptions of verbal, physical and online harassment and threats and vandalism.
Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff talked about how the Bloomington Police Department has reported hate crimes and incidents defined in federal guidelines for decades. BPD is also now one of about 50 law enforcement organizations in the nation
Diekhoff said he thinks transparency produces trust between residents and law enforcement. He also talked about the concerns of those who think hate crime legislation intruding on people’s rights.
“We’re not policing people’s thoughts,” Diekhoff said. “You can think and say what you want, but when you commit that crime, that‘s where the legislation comes in.”
Ricardo Tellez, IU student and vice president of the Sigma Lambda Beta, a historically Latino fraternity, said at the town hall meeting that he thinks paying attention to what people say is also important because of what words can lead to.
“I grew up and I got a lot of racially charged statements thrown at me,” Tellez said. “And later, these thoughts and words turned into physical actions.”
Just this month, there have been two separate incidents of anti-semitic graffiti on Bloomington High School North’s bathroom walls according the the BHRC’s 2019 report. The mayor said working with schools in Bloomington is one of the next steps in educating the public about hate incidents.
Hamilton talked about the multitude of larger, recent hate crimes like the mass shootings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Charleston, South Carolina, during the meeting as well.
“You don’t have to wait for one of these horrific incidents,” Hamilton said. “There’s all these little incidents that cause the same stress. If you see something say something.”